I am well aware of the attempts to draw parallels between this position and positions used years ago to deny opportunities to African-Americans. I know you are a history major, but I can assure you I need no reminders concerning the history of African-Americans in the defense of their Nation and the tribulations they faced. I am a part of that history... Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument. I believe the privacy rights of all Americans in uniform have to be considered, especially since those rights are often infringed upon by the conditions of military service.
-- General Colin Powell, Chairman JCS, 1993
This statement by Powell is still frequently relied upon by those seeking to keep DADT in place. It is undeniably strong stuff from a respected man. The good General is entitled to his opinion, but I do not entirely agree with him. While race and sexuality are not entirely comparable themselves, the attitudes and prejudice regarding both most definitely ARE.
It should be noted that Powell's views on banning gays in the military have softened over the years. While he is reluctant to remove DADT at the present, he has signaled that his support for it isn't as strident as it once may have appeared to be. In fact, he punted the issue to Congress in this interview. Read this 2007 interview he did with Tim Russert:
MR. RUSSERT: The only two countries from the original NATO group that do not allow openly gay people to serve in the military are the U.S. and Portugal. Is it a time to do away with “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow openly gay people to serve in the military?
GEN. POWELL: I think the, the country has changed in its attitudes quite a bit. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was an appropriate response to the situation back in 1993. And the country certainly has changed. I don’t know that it has changed so much that this would be the right thing to do now. My, my, my successor, General Shalikashvili has written a letter about this.
MR. RUSSERT: Yes.
GEN. POWELL: He thinks it has changed sufficiently. But he ends his letter by saying, “We’re in a war right now, and let’s not do this right now.” My own judgment is that gays and lesbians should be allowed to have maximum access to all aspects of society. In the State Department, we had a very open policy, we had gay ambassadors. I swore in gay ambassadors with their partners present. But the military is different. It is unique. It exists for one purpose and that’s to apply state violence. And in the intimate confines of military life, in barracks life, where we tell you who you’re going to live with, where we tell you who you’re going to sleep with, we have to have a different set of rules. I will not second-guess the commanders who are serving now, just as I didn’t want to be second-guessed 12 or 13 years ago. But I think the country is changing. We may eventually reach that point. I’m not sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it inevitable?
GEN. POWELL: I don’t know if it’s inevitable, but I think it’s certainly moving in that direction. I just don’t—I’m not convinced we have reached that point yet, and I will let the military commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Congress make the judgment. Remember, it is the Congress who put this into law. It was a policy. And that’s all I wanted it to be was a policy change, but it was Congress in 1993 that made it a matter of law. And so there are some proposed pieces of legislation up there. I don’t know if all of the candidates the other night who were saying it ought to be overturned have co-signed that or introduced law. But it’s a matter of law now, not a matter of military policy.
Besides the above interview, it should also be mentioned that has signaled he may support Obama for president this year. Obama of course has pledged his support to the repeal of the ban against gays in the military.